It appears that the free movement of labour is one of the biggest obstacles for establishing the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015.
After Singapore has more or less closed its job market for all but highly specialised expats, Thailand begins to complain about threats of fiercer competition after borders would open for foreign worker through the launch of the AEC.
The Thailand Development Research Institute has warned that Thai workforce especially in the service sector might face problems to employ locals after the AEC comes into effect.
The institute suggests the government set a clear limit of foreign workers allowed to work in Thailand, a demand that stands in clear contradiction to the ideas of the AEC .
The institute said that Thai workers in 32 types of hospitality businesses, such as tourism, hotels and restaurants, might be affected by the AEC as there was an agreement that allowed hiring of foreign workers “who did not have high standards.”
This “might cause an influx of foreign workers into Thailand and decrease employment opportunities for Thai people.”
The Thai government should implement “clear strategies on labour issues, especially on foreign worker management,” the institute said.
“The quantity and quality of foreign workers must meet Thailand’s labour standards so that they would not take jobs from the locals,” it added.
However, critics say the core problem is that labours standards in Thailand as such are low which leaves not much ways for businesses to hire local workers.
The country has one of the poorest English proficiencies within ASEAN, and despite relatively high government spending on education the Thailand education system remains inefficient in producing a higher skilled workforce and funds seem to be funneled anywhere but into improving the system.
The critics warn that Thai universities are offering too many low-quality degree programmes and churn out graduates with “useless qualifications” that rarely speak enough English to qualify them for well-paid jobs in the service industry or at multinational companies.
Employers report having difficulty hiring people with problem-solving skills and good work habits and attitude, as also finding applicants “with even basic reading skills.”
“Education in Thailand is a terrible failure,” an expat teacher puts it.
“Plagued by huge class sizes with more than 50 students a class, terrible teacher training, lazy students and a system that forces teachers to pass students even though they’ve actually failed, there doesn’t seem to be much hope education in Thailand will improve any time soon,” the teacher said.
“Adding to this, the Thai Ministry of Education bureaucracy is one of the most ridiculously inept in the world, ” she added.
And the problem of low English skills seems to be a structural one.
“Most of the English teachers in Thailand are underpaid and unqualified expats, old men without college degrees who simply came to Thailand because of the Thai women, then ended up teaching as it’s one of the few jobs Westerners are allowed to do,” the teacher said.
“The result is that less than 10 per cent of Thai students can actually speak more than 20 words of English correctly and a lot of them aren’t very good at Thai either.”